Despite its growth over the decades in terms of size, acceptance and public visibility, Albuquerque's LGBTQIA+ community remains, in many ways, a small, close-knit group. Any change or setback is quickly felt throughout the entire community. When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down bars and restaurants last spring, it closed the doors on the handful of nightclubs dedicated to Albuquerque's queer community. And like businesses of every stripe, not all of them were able to weather the extended shutdown. By the end of August, after five months of closure, the board of directors of the venerable Albuquerque Social Club—known to regulars as "The Soch"—announced that the financially strapped institution would not be reopening.
For more than 30 years, the Social Club on Central Ave. had been a second home to those in Albuquerque's gay scene. Reeling from the lack of services and loss of connection brought about by the pandemic, many Albuquerque LGBTQ residents were unwilling to lose yet another beloved institution. A social media fundraising campaign (SaveTheSoch.com) was launched, and contributions started pouring in.
"The Social media campaign for Save the Soch was a huge success," says Nathen Illidge, president of Albuquerque Social Club's board of directors. "The community was able to help us raise close to $60,000 for us to pay back taxes, renew our liquor license and help keep the club floating until we are able to open. Without their help, I don't think we would've gotten as far as we have. That was our first hurdle and also our biggest."
Although organizers do not have a firm date for reopening, they do expect the venue to welcome the public back in two to four weeks. "We would have loved to be open already, and I know a lot of bars are doing what is needed to prep appropriately for opening," says Illidge. "We're taking the same precautions but also still working to hitting our fundraising goals. We would have loved nothing more than to open for Pride Month, but the financial struggles are still there. We need to raise money for equipment, staff, hire a new general manager, etc."
Although the Albuquerque Social Club may not see its doors open in time for this year's Pride, there will be a public fundraiser for The Soch at Marble Brewery on Sunday, June 6, from 3 to 5pm. All proceeds will be going to The Soch, and it's a way for longtime patrons to come together and celebrate Pride.
"The last 12 months have challenged many people and businesses. You can't anticipate a pandemic nor can you anticipate how long a pandemic could potentially last," admits Illidge. "As a board, we are very lucky to have individuals who are willing and able to volunteer their time to ensure the safety and security of our space, and I don't just mean the board. I mean everyone in this community, the members of the club and people outside of the club who see the importance of The Soch. The whole pandemic has been a learning experience, but it's taught us the meaning of community and what The Soch means to all of us."
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